This year the San Dieguito River Park turns 30! To commemorate this milestone, River Park staff is writing a blog series – highlighting an exciting accomplishment (or maybe a challenging setback) for each year starting with 1989 when the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority (JPA) was formed. I have the honor of kicking off our series with that first year – 1989.
Of course the SDRP did not appear overnight on June 12, 1989 when the SDRP Joint Powers Authority was formed as a unique multi-jurisdictional park agency to create the San Dieguito River Park, nor was the idea for a San Dieguito River Park new, but a vision long in the making that continues today to be a work in progress. Back then, in the 1980s, the San Dieguito River Valley – from the coastal wetlands at the San Dieguito Lagoon to 55 miles inland at the oak-lined ridgetop of Volcan Mountain – was under threat.
Change was on the horizon and many people did not like what they could imagine. City and County planners were contemplating large development proposals such as new roadways and freeway interchanges that would cut through the middle of farmland and lagoon wetlands, filling in the valley with hotels, shopping centers, housing tracts, and parking lots, and driving the river course underground. Making matters worse, the western valley was a patchwork of over 50 private landholdings and four different planning jurisdictions. At the east end, new homes were proposed on the privately-held slopes of Volcan Mountain.
Public response to these plans was strong and public meetings were filled to capacity with interest groups lining up on opposite ends to argue the merits. At the same time, others visualized a regional park – a respite of open space along the river valley – something that had been lost in Mission Valley to the south. Some elected officials spoke about the “San Dieguito River Valley as the Balboa Park of North County” (former San Diego Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer) and “our last shot in an unplanned river valley to preserve some natural beauty” (former County Supervisor Susan Golding). What the river valley needed was representation bolstered by citizens and groups like Citizens Coordinate for Century 3 and the Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley, and someone to take responsibility for negotiating a path through the morass of interests.
Eventually, a vision for a regional river park was put on paper and the JPA was formed to carry it forward – fully aware of the inherent challenges that lie ahead.
Principal Planner, San Dieguito River Park JPA